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Church News Volume 2, Issue 4

Dear friends,

Advent - these four weeks of preparation for Christmas - is a mixture. On one hand we are looking forward to the goodwill and pleasures of Christmas; the renewing of friendships, the parties, the presents. On the other hand the Church tells us that Advent is a season of penitence; and the note of rejoicing is missing from our services - no flowers, hangings and vestments in purple. But why this note of gloom?

The answer is simple enough. Christians have always rejoiced at the birth of Jesus, the coming of our Saviour and Lord, from the earliest days. But, also from early days, Christians have had in mind the Second Coming of Jesus, His coming "in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead" as our Collect puts it. So there are two contrary ideas in Advent-rejoicing and also penitence; penitence for our sins, especially at the prospect of the ultimate judgement, and the fear of what that judgement may bring.

Do we really believe we are going to be judged? Many people think that the idea of a Judgement Day is crude and exaggerated; or they think that God is so loving that He wouldn't judge anyone, anyway.

But there is a good deal about judgement in the New testament, and particularly in the sayings of Jesus. They are warnings; and these warnings have been increasingly ignored in our time. We tend to think what we do doesn't matter, as long as no one is harmed. Personal responsibility has been eroded away; we excuse bad behaviour on the grounds of "poor upbringing, deprivation, neglect" and so on, and call it "anti-social" instead of wicked.

The mistake is to suppose that judgement is imposed upon us from outside, something imposed by the Law or by God. But judgement is really from within, self-judgement. We feel remorse and regret about what we have done and wish we had resisted. And there is the inevitable long-term judgement on the way we live our lives: "As you sow, so shall you reap."

How many people today are paying for it in the form of physical or mental or psychological illness of one kind and another; how many people have a permanently warped or partial outlook on life because of sins and errors and mistakes, bitterness or hatred in earlier days? Or continuing even now?

Penitence we should not think of as a gloomy looking-within, a beating on the breast or a dreary introvertedness. Rather let us think of penitence as admission, admitting to God the kind of person we really are. To drop all pretences and barriers, open ourselves to God. Admit that we are not the person we would like other people to think that we are; that we have many weaknesses and failings and that we long to be better. Ask God to accept us as we are, but help us to be better, to become what we wish we could be.

Give thanks for the good things about yourself; take heart in the knowledge that God knows we are each a bundle of good and bad mixed together, and that God loves us all just the same.

If we have taken the penitence side of Advent seriously, applied its lessons to ourselves, with what true and unalloyed joy will we be able to welcome the Saviour born for us on Christmas Day! We will be able to rejoice in His first coming as a child, born in a stable, and look without fear towards His Second Coming as Lord and Judge.

Rev'd Ian M. Finn

News Letter Archive.

Last Modified Wednesday 25 May 2011